The Importance of Back to Work Interviews

By Carol Smith
29 Jul 2019

Conducting an interview upon an employee’s return to work is one of the most effective methods of managing absence. Despite this, lots of organisations fail to utilise them.

In this article, we’ll be looking at what it entails and why they could work for your business. And remember, if you need any immediate HR assistance, we have a 24/7 advice line.

What is a back to work interview?

It’s a 1-to-1 meeting with an employee following an absence. There are multiple aims of this interview. These are:

  1. To send a clear message that absence is being managed and monitored. Asking an employee to explain their absence face to face deters dishonesty and unnecessary absence.
  2. To collect data around absences to help spot trends and implement absence management methods.
  3. In cases of long-term or serious absences, to plan a phased return to work and assess if there are any reasonable adjustments you can make to assist.


When should a back to work interview be done?

If you are serious about implementing this as an absence management policy, then you should conduct one of these interviews after every absence.

Is there a back to work interview time scale? Not necessarily. For maximum effectiveness, you should conduct the interview as soon as possible. Ideally, on the day the employee returns to work, but you can’t always manage this.

The interview shouldn’t take up a huge amount of time. 10-30 minutes is standard.


Conducting a back to work interview after sickness

The majority of interviews you conduct will be following a sickness absence. If possible, the employee’s line manager should be the one do this, but if not, you can get an HR representative or other senior manager to conduct the meeting.

Medical information is confidential and sensitive, so keep any notes in a safe and secure place, whether they’re written or digital.

You should conduct the interview sympathetically. Don’t pressure employees into revealing anything they’re uncomfortable with—they don’t have an obligation to reveal an existing condition or disability if they don’t want to.

One way to keep the interview on track and avoid any awkwardness is to follow a standardised form. We’ll look more at what you should include on the form a little later.


Can you conduct a back to work interview after a 1-day sickness?

Technically, yes.

Although we recommend it, you can decide whether you want to conduct an interview after every absence. If you do, ensure it isn’t critical or confrontational.

Remember, the objective is to reassure the employee that you consider their absence to be genuine, ensure it’s properly documented, and highlight any underlying issues.

Following the interview, you might have to consider making reasonable adjustments. This is the perfect time to discuss these with your employee.


Conducting a back to work interview after maternity leave

In this case, it’d have different objectives. Firstly, it acts as a catch-up, ensuring the employee is aware of any significant changes to the business that took place during their absence.

Next, you’d want to assess any risks the new mother might face. Some of the most common risks new mothers face are:

  • Exposure to infectious diseases.
  • Work-related stress.
  • Inadequate workstations and bad posture.
  • Standing or sitting for large lengths of time.

In cases where the staff member’s job is no longer there for them when they return to work, you can discuss reallocating work or restoring the old job. To do this you must offer them a suitable alternative job, on terms & conditions no less favourable than the terms that applied before she was on maternity leave.

Finally, a new mother might want to change or reduce their workload. This is the time to discuss any requests for flexible or part-time working.

It’s good business practice to set an agenda for the meeting prior to having it, as well as informing the employee of it too. This ensures they understand what you intend to discuss and can prepare in advance.


Are back to work interviews compulsory?

No. Currently, there isn’t a back to work interview law in place, stating you must conduct them.

The choice is entirely up to you.


Back to work interview questions

There’s no strict back to work interview template, but there are some fundamental points you should cover. These are:

  • Welcoming the employee back.
  • Updating the employee on any changes to the workplace they missed.
  • Asking about the employee’s health and reason for absence.
  • Discussing work-related issues that may have had an impact on their absence.
  • Explaining any consequences of the absence.
  • Discussing measures to prevent future absences (if relevant).

Having a document for the employee to fill out can be a great way to keep track of what you discuss in the meeting, as well as capturing the employee’s data (and feelings) about their return to work.

If you want further detail, you can download a back to work interview form here.


Expert support

If you have any further questions about return to work interviews, want someone to come on-site and talk you through it, or have any other HR issues, speak to a Croner expert today on 0808 145 3380.

About the Author

Carol Smith

Carol joined Croner in 2001 as an Employment Consultant advising a wide range of clients on all aspects of Employment Law and HR practice. She demonstrates particular expertise in complex disciplinary, grievance matters and reorganisation / redundancy.


Carol Smith

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